Hamstring injuries: How to prevent them; how to recover from them

Hamstring injuries aren’t the most serious ailments, but they can be one of the most irritating.

They are the most common muscle injury in sports, making up 12 percent of all injuries in college and professional football, and up to 30 percent of all injuries in professional soccer.

Schlimgen_Dale_WEB100x125The typical athlete can return to their sport after two to three weeks. But there’s a good chance of re-injury – 20-40 percent of athletes re-injure their hamstrings. Most re-injuries occur within the first two weeks of athletes’ returning to their sport.

How to prevent hamstring injuries

While there isn’t an infallible way to avoid hamstring injuries, there are some tips to try to prevent them.

“One of the more common exercises is the Nordic Hamstring exercise,” Senior POWER physical therapist Dale Schlimgen says. “Start in a kneeling position with the lower legs held down by a partner or machine. Then attempt to keep the trunk and thighs straight as you perform a controlled forward fall toward the floor. You can also try incorporating programs that have been shown to reduce ACL injury rates.”

If you do find yourself laid up with a hamstring injury, it is key you’re fully recovered before returning to practice or games.

“As part of rehabilitation, it is important that normalized mobility and strength be restored,” Schlimgen says. “But it is just as important that the muscle be gradually exposed to and retrained to handle the same types of stresses that caused the original injury.”

Common types of hamstring injuries

The two most common types of hamstring strains in athletes are high speed and overstretch injuries.

High speed injuries are more common and occur during sprinting or attempting to change directions while moving at high speeds. Overstretching occurs when the muscle is forcefully stretched.

“An eccentric contraction is the common factor in both types of injury and happens when the muscle is working (contracting) to slow the leg down at the same time it is being lengthened (stretched out),” Schlimgen says. “Eccentric strengthening is an important part of the rehabilitation process.”

Strength and movement training teaches your body better control when performing common athletic movements.

Before returning from a hamstring injury:

  • You should be able to perform a number of movements at progressive speeds without pain
  • You should be able to complete a series of sport-specific movements at full speeds without pain
  • Your strength and mobility should be fully recovered before you resume practice and competition

To schedule an appointment with a POWER physical therapist, call the POWER Center nearest you. For more information, visit sanfordpower.com.

By Dale Schlimgen, PT, MPT, OCS, SCS, ATC